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Wine’s intriguing new co-ferment trend

Meet the winemakers pairing grapes with other fruit and plants to create drinks that refuse to be classified….

The renowned biodynamic winemaker Julie-Ann Hoch was working in her vineyard in Kremstal, Austria, when she hit upon the idea for Pure Joy Botanicals.

“I was looking at all these herbs and flowers growing wild between the vines and I thought, ‘I wonder what would happen if we fermented them together?’”

The result was a quartet (two sparkling and two still) of seven per cent abv aperitifs made from foot-trodden grapes wild-fermented with elderflower, rose petals, mint and lavender.

Bone-dry but fragrant, with the lightness of a spritz, they are intriguing and delicious. Pure Joy Elderflower marries the citrusy pithiness of an orange wine with fine bubbles and a subtle, floral lift. The pale-red Lavender is like a gently sparkling, lighter cousin of a crunchy Beaujolais.

“It’s about preserving and celebrating the biodiversity that keeps our vineyards healthy,” she says.

Pure Joy Botanicals is just one example of a more experimental mood that has lately seized the natural-wine scene – where winemakers, inspired by cider- and beer- making, are co-fermenting grapes with other fruits and plants to create something more free-style.

Co-fermentation is the winemaking process of fermenting at least two varieties of grapes at the same time. This traditional practice, at times connected to the winemaking process of field blends, is different from the widely used process of blending wine components into a cuvée after fermentation.

A Glimmer of Hops by Austria’s Franz Weninger is a ferment of grapes and wild hops that grow side by side on his estate.

Based on a blaufränkisch rosé and amphora-aged, it evokes a rosé vermouth or an Italian bitter, but without the syrupiness. At 12.5 per cent abv it’s the strength of a wine, but it looks like a cool craft beer.

“A big part of being biodynamic is about closing the circle – working with what you have,” says Weninger. “It’s also an expression of a place.”

Apples and grapes – which tend to favour the same terrain – make an excellent pairing, too.

Soif! is a smashable apple/grape hybrid from Alsace permaculture collective Les Funambules. Created as a harvest-time thirst-quencher, it has become an underground hit. Imagine the sweet spot between apple juice, cider and orange wine, labelled with a cartoonish maw.

In the US, the celebrated California winemaker Rajat Parr has debuted Bottle Baby, an apple-and-grape co-ferment made with fruit from Phelan Farm, a 12-acre regenerative farm he recently acquired on the Pacific coast.

Meanwhile, Ashanta, a young natural-wine duo based in Sonoma County, has been creating a buzz with hybrid wines made from grapes, foraged elderberries, apples and wild feijoa fruit.

And Patagonia Provisions, the new wine and organic-food arm of eco-conscious clothing brand Patagonia, counts a grape-and-thyme co-ferment from Austria’s Meinklang in its range.

It’s part of a collection of artisanal fermented beverages made using restorative land practices and bottled with minimal intervention.

“[The trend] is partly down to more winegrowers embracing a more polycultural approach,” says Peter Honegger of natural-wine specialists Newcomer Wines in east London.

“And it speaks to a new generation of wine lovers who are no longer just looking for the prestige of appellations or a label. They want something that might spark a conversation about what our world might look like in the future.”


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